In Their Own Words: Evelyn & Rafael
Evelyn & Rafael were guests of honor at Opening Opportunities 2016, where they told their stories. Their moving speech, delivered together, received a standing ovation; it is copied in its entirety below.
Evelyn: When I first came to Houston it was scary and strange. Everything was different. I had come with just my two boys, and I was scared to even go out, to buy food, to take the boys to school. I couldn’t understand anyone and everything was different to what I knew.
I didn’t have a car, so I travelled by bus. I couldn’t ask for directions from the driver. It was stressful and I often got lost. One day I didn’t know where to get off the bus, so I returned on the same bus to where I started. I couldn’t ask anyone for help.
I remember when my little boy said to me, “Mom, mom, I need some shots for school.” I took him to the doctor, but I couldn’t understand. I didn’t know how to ask for what he needed. It was so frustrating.
I needed to learn English but I didn’t know how to find classes. Sometimes, on the bus, I asked people if they knew about English classes, but they said they didn’t know. They were busy working and they said they didn’t have time. I wanted to learn English but I didn’t know where. I was lonely and scared.
Rafael: When I arrived here in Houston, I had many goals and dreams. At first, I was excited. I started to look for jobs, but I would get to a company, and the secretary would say something to me, and all I could say to respond was “I, work”. I didn’t understand her, and she didn’t understand me.
This situation was very hard for me. I wanted to do well, but I didn’t speak English. When I got a job, I had to do all the hard jobs. All the others could speak English but I couldn’t speak up for myself. I couldn’t understand the instructions.
I worked hard, but it was very difficult. When my co-workers talked about their weekends, having fun with their friends and families, I kept silent. I didn’t know what they were saying. I never went out with my family on the weekend. I didn’t speak enough English and I was embarrassed. I stayed at home.
I started to learn English by myself, at home. I studied YouTube, I read magazines, I listened to the radio in English. It helped me, but I noticed that I wasn’t making much progress. Finally, I said to myself, “I am in the USA. Somewhere, I need to find a place that teaches English, for free.”
I looked on the internet, and I found Literacy Advance.
Evelyn: Rafael told me about Literacy Advance too. I came to the registration, and I liked the people and the school. Everyone welcomed me and they were very helpful. I knew I needed to come to class so I could learn English. I was working every day, but I decided to stop working on Saturdays so I could come to class. That meant less money, but I thought it was worth it to learn English.
Evelyn with her graduating computer class.
I have learned so much in my classes. My English is much better, and I have completed two computer classes as well. I can talk to people at work, and I can talk to my sons’ teachers. I can email them about grades, or problems my kids are having in school.
I used to be afraid to receive a phone call in English, but not anymore. I remember the first time I had to take a call in English. I didn’t want to answer, but then I thought, “This is my time to speak in English,” and I did it! The woman was calling about my job, and I understood all her questions, and she understood all my answers.
Rafael: I work in construction, and now, if there’s a problem, I can explain my ideas about how to fix the problem. My boss and my coworkers noticed that my English was better. They said, “Hey man, you didn’t speak English before, but now you speak English!” I felt something great about myself.
I have to make deliveries, go to other locations for my job. Before, my boss would send someone with me to translate, but now, he doesn’t need to. I can go alone, and I can do everything I need to do.
I have plans. Probably, I’ll get a promotion soon. My boss knows I’m a good worker and he knows I’m learning English to keep getting better. And if I want to, I can go to other companies, get a job as a foreman. Houston is big and it’s growing, and in a few years, I can be a boss in construction too.
Evelyn: I’m not afraid any more. I can travel by bus and I can ask directions from the driver. But I don’t need to much any more, because now I have my own car!
Rafael: My life now is different because I can go to places with my family; the zoo, the movie theater. Before, my children would ask and I would say “No,” because I knew my English wasn’t good enough. But now we can go anywhere.
Evelyn: Literacy Advance changed my life too. When I go someplace, I don’t need to take my two boys to translate, I can do everything myself. I’m not scared anymore. I can talk with teachers, and I have plans too. My goal is to work in a tax office.
Rafael: Everyone that comes to the United States, it doesn't matter what country they are from. All of them have voices.
All of them have something to say, but they can't do it.
I used to be one of them. So now I would like to say "Thank you so much Literacy Advance for these classes."
So when Literacy Advance asked us to talk today, to come to this breakfast, we say YES. This is a good way to say "thanks!"
Thank you so much Literacy Advance and thank you for everything that you do to help people like Evelyn and me to have classes at Literacy Advance.
REALLY. YOU HAVE CHANGED OUR LIVES.
Your support can make it possible for the next Evelyn or the next Rafael to learn English, enter the workforce, improve their lives, and transform their families.
Please help a student to find their voice.
Click on the image above for details.
- 205 basic reading students (Adult Basic Education, or ABE)
- 1,325 basic English students (English as a Second Language, or ESL)
- 800 classes
- 99% of students made progress toward a life goal
- 235 volunteer tutors
- 16 Family Literacy Events
- 1,550 Family Literacy attendees
- 1 new satellite campus - Waller County!